This week, members of the Motion Picture Academy—the folks behind the Oscars—are casting their ballots to determine who will be nominated for the biggest film awards ceremony of the year. The Los Angeles Times reports that there is already concern among the membership that #OscarsSoWhite will make a roaring comeback this year.
In 2015 the 20 nomination slots for the four top acting awards were all filled by White actors, leaving zero chance that someone of color would take home a trophy and spurring BroadwayBlack.com editor April Reign to create the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag. If the myriad critics and sites are right in their predictions, Idris Elba (“Beasts of No Nation”) is the only actor of color poised to be nominated for his work this year. Michael B. Jordan (“Creed”) and Will Smith (“Concussion”) also gave standout performances, but no other actors of color have been widely mentioned in the Oscar discussion this year.
Balloting is set to close on Friday, but some hope that the Academy’s worry about a repeat of last year will influence voters to look beyond the usual White suspects when they evaluate the best performances of 2015.
“If it’s all-white again, nobody’s going to be happy and there might be a growing perception that the academy is out of touch,” Steve Ross, a University of Southern California history professor whose work focuses on the intersection of film and politics, told the LA Times. “It has to be a good performance, but, for some, if they’re deciding between Will Smith and somebody else, they might just go for Will Smith because of what happened last year.”
But the overwhelming Whiteness of the nominations is more of a symptom than an illness. The academy’s membership—the people who vote—is largely White. It’s somethey the group is attempting to rectify. In June it invited 322 new members of various backgrounds to join, with academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs saying that their inclusion represented “a normalization of our membership to represent both the industry and the country as a whole.” And in November, Boone Isaacs, who is Black, launched a five-year diversity initiative called A2020, which is billed as “a move to increase film industry diversity in front of and behind the camera.”
“You definitely want the people who decide these things to reflect society,” Ryan Coogler, who wrote and directed “Creed,” told the LA Times. “There’s empowerment in representation. It means so much when you see somebody who’s like you up there on that stage.”